17 of 17 people found the following review helpful
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Though remembered today primarily for ANIMAL FARM and 1984, George Orwell was also one of the most brilliant essayists of the 20th Century. This volume (the second of four recently re-released in paperback) shows the range and depth of his journalistic writing. Orwell was a Socialist and avowed leftist, but he never felt compelled to toe the party line. What makes his journalistic writings so lively and thought-provoking is that he constantly challenges the reader to look at entrenched ideas from a fresh perspective. This volume contains his justly famous essay on England, "The Lion and the Unicorn", and pieces on such wide-ranging subjects as Hitler's "Mein Kampf", Tolstoy and Shakespeare, and a spirited appreciation of Rudyard Kipling (politically and artistically not the sort of writer one would expect Orwell to defend). Interspersed with the essays is a selection of Orwell's letters from this period, as well as his fascinating War-time Diary. You may not always agree with Orwell's opinions, but you will never be bored. Orwell was a master stylist, but what really strikes the reader is how startlingly relevant the essays are, sixty years after they were written. An absolutely first-rate collection by a major writer who is long-overdue for reassessment.
10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
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...Country Right or Left is part of a four volume set of essays commissioned by Orwell's wife Sonia. Whatever the criticisms that have been made of her stewardship of Orwell's legacy, these four volumes contain much of the best of Orwell's essays, letters and diary excerpts. This volume covers the early war years and much of the writing is shaded by that war.
This is Orwell at his finest, on one hand a confirmed socialist dedicated to fighting the right whether the Tory party or fascism; one the other hand an anti-Stalinist and critic of the left and always an anti-totalitarian.
Contained within "My Country Right or Left" is some of Orwell's best writing. In "Pacifism and the War", a notorious piece at the time, he accuses pacifists of aiding the fascist cause. "The Art of Donald McGill" is an essay about, of all things, postcards that are popular among the middle and lower classes. The postcards themselves, Orwell argues, say much about England's political and social attitudes. It's actually a perceptive piece of pop art and social commentary. Among my favorites is the essay concerning Mark Twain (Mark Twain- Licensed Jester). Orwell, a great admirer of Twain's, is critical of him for not being forceful enough in his social criticism. He accusation is that Twain pulls his punches far too often. It's a great piece of criticism and is Orwell at his finest.
What holds a large amount of this Volume together are the letters to the Partisan Review, a New York publication that contracted with Orwell to write commentary on England during this early war period. The issues vary from English politics, reflections on the clothing worn by the masses, attitudes towards democracy and so on. All well written, never dull and very often wrong in their predictions. There is much more here including excerpts from his diary, letters to other major figures of the day and reflections on the Spanish Civil War.
This is some of the greatest essay writing in the English language. Even sixty years later the essay's read clearly and give insight to Orwell's thinking.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
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My earlier review on the first volume of this series may be of interest to the reader and help him understand the content of this volume.
Like the first volume, this volume is composed of letters, essays, book reviews and journals dating (generally) to the early war period when the fate of the world seemed bleakest. At the risk of seeming lazy, I will highlight what seems most interesting to me and look at selections I believe are unique to this collection. I can never be sure, however.
The Letter to The Editor of Time and Tide...conveys the panic caused by the unfounded belief in an impending invasion of England by Nazi Germany. Orwell displayed an amazing detail of knowlege about such things as the use of dynamite against entrenched street fighters taken from his days in Spain. Orwell later tried to persuade the Home Guard (I believe) or LDV to train volunteers in insurgent warfare, but later reflected that the ruling class would have other issues with that idea.
Phamplet Literature...The essay on phamplets reflects Orwell's giant collection of Depression era phamplets housed in the London Museum. This is essay is a literary time capsule since phamplets are often included in real time capsules. Phamplets give future generations a glipse into the nut culture of a particular period of history. The interesting question posed by this subject is whether the internet itself is a kind of populist electronic phamplet...blogspots drowning out legitimate literature and journalism. How would Orwell have reacted to this new electronic, immmense phamplet?
Literature and Totalitarianism...Do you remember in "1984" how the state altered its dogma to the changing political military circumstances it created? East Asia then Oceania then Eurasia...endless shifting alliances and slogans. Hitler quickly changed Communism to a useful socialist brother when the pact was signed with Molotov. Hitler's Communist victims in Dachau, the KPD, were soon forgotten by the Soviets as well. Truth is elastic for totalitarians.
New Words...an essay I haven't seen elsewhere, deals also with language and mind and probably had an influence on newspeak in "1984." It is interesting to note that Gordon Comstock compromises his idealistic poverty to become a middle class advertising copy writer in "Keep The Aspidistra Flying" after sneering at idotic ads for Bovril. Comstock's new life consists of composing idiotic ad slogans that seem almost totalitarian.
Mein Kampf...Orwell reviewed the writings of fanatics as well. The edition Orwell reviewed cast Hitler in a slightly favorable light in 1939 casting Hitler as an errant Conservative. The edition was quickly reissued with the royalties going to the Red Cross. Even Orwell professed a grudging acceptance of Hitler as convincing theatric figure capable of producing pathos and urging destiny in his presentation.
War-time diary...These diaries lasted from May 1940 to November 1942. They convey the pop culture of wartime England and the odd detachment many felt from major war events. Orwell recounted how his first wife and himself went to pubs at night only to find the patrons playing darts while major battles were raging; they would be the first to ask for the news radio to be turned on. These diaries are by far the best selections in the book and are hard to put down.
Another masterpiece from this prolific writer. The writer who embodied an everyman struggling for human dignity and freedom in an ominous age.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
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This is my first volume of essays, articles and letters by Blair/Orwell, which I read thanks to Jim Egolf's recent review here. The man contradicts himself quite a bit, but I do not regret the time spent. Who wants to get bored by people that one always agrees with?
The main theme of the book, due to the time of the sample, is England in war with totalitarianism/fascism/nazism. Though Orwell was in his heart a leftist, he had enough insight from own experience to understand the nature of totalitarianism, he was a dedicated anti-Stalinist, and he staid away from party politics.
And yet: his long essay 'The Lion and the Unicorn', one of the core texts of this book, gives a political vision, that puzzles me. He displays a surprising naivete about the strength of economic planning in socialism. Of course, we have the benefit of hindsight, we know that a central planning bureaucracy can be the right approach for a short term effort, like for a war, but will be hopelessly lost in inefficiencies in 'normal' times. Orwell was deeply convinced that state capitalism or socialism was the future, there would be no return after the war.
I have decided to ignore his political recipes, but to enjoy his social analyses: England is a rich man's paradise, but the ruling class is too stupid to run the country.
One of his main contributions to our understanding of the confict of the time: his juxtaposition of the ideology of hedonism (which nearly led the West into the abyss) against the ideology of social sacrifice, which helped the Nazis to succeed, luckily only temporarily.
I wonder if he fully understood the real antagonism of Hitler to the West or if he got deceived by the temporary diversion of the pact with Stalin. (I notice when I browse the reviews and comments in this neighborhood that there is a certain willingness to say, the West should have gone with Hitler against the Soviets. Oh my, what a misunderstanding.) Probably he did. In a nice remark after the German attack on Russia he says, had this happened before the Hitler-Stalin pact, there was a chance of serious political disturbance in Britain, because the ruling class might have wanted to join the attack on Germany's side.
My favorite text in the collection is the essay on H.G.Wells' inability to understand Hitler. Wells was the man who envisaged scientific progress against reactionary societies earlier in the century. He was unable to understand that Hitler's essentially irrational and superstitious ideology was capable of an efficient alliance with the other side of science.
3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
James E. Egolf
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This book is an anthology of Orwell's essays, literary criticism, letters to friends,and political criticism. Those who read this book can read some interesting letters that Orwell wrote to the editors of THE PARTISAN REVIEW on the fortunes of W.W. II involving the British. The book concludes with Orwell's diary of the war. While George Orwell (1903-1950)was a self admitted "leftist," he was not an ideologue. Orwell showed that he was a well read individual and knew very well that political labels conceal the desire for political power regardless of political titles and party affilations.
Orwell was a master of literary criticism. Two examples are his review and comments on Hitler's MEIN KAMPF and Tolstoy's denounciation of Shakespear. Orwell commented that an English review of Mein Kampf favaored the German dictator. Orwell correctly predicted such praise would soon evaporate which it did. Orwell informed readers that praise for Hitler was not unusal. One must note that Churchill complimented Hitler in Churchill's book titled GREAT CONTEMPORARIES. Churchill also complimented Hitler in a speech to Parliament in November, 1938. Here Orwell shows not only his ability as a literary critic, but he informs younger readers that the political disapproval word,fascism, had a different connotation. Many Europeans including the British middle and upper classes had serious concerns of Big Communism with its record of mass murder and concentration camp brutality.
Orwell showed himself again as a literary critic when Orwell critisized Tolstoy for the latter's condemnation of William Shakespear. Orwell correctly refuted Tolstoy on a couple of issues. First, Tolstoy read Shakespear in translation which may have tainted his understanding of Shakespear. Also Tolstoy tried to condemn Shakespear in lieu of Tolstoy's social philosophy. Orwell stated such criticism was useless because such criticism would have been incomprehensible to Shakespear and his English contemporaries in the 16th and early 17th centuries. Orwell also chided Tolstoy for his assumed superiority. Tolstoy could not understand why Shakespear literary work was so appealing and wrote that everyone should know that Shakespear was some sort of scoundral. Yet, Orwell wryly comments that Shakespear's literay work was available throughout the world while Orwell could not find Tolstoy's essay until he found it in a museum.
The best part of this Orwell anthology are his political essays. Orwell noted that there was suppose to be a bitter political divide betwen Fascism and Big Communism. When the German-Soviet Non-Aggression Pact in 1939 unhinged this concept and angered Communists and their fellow travellers. When asked about this unexpected turn of diplomatic events, Molotov (I believe it was Molotov) who said that the difference between Socialism (Bib Communism) and Fascism was a matter of taste. Approximately two years later when the Germans invaded the Soviet Union on June 22, 1941, this view sure changed. Orwell stated that Stalin and his supporters would have called themselves Fascists if they thought such a label would enhance their power. Hitler and his supporters would have done the same. Orwell clearly indicated that men who have concentrated power will use whatever political labels to keep or enhance their complete hold on power.
Orwell used the political chaos both inside the Soviet Union and in Europe to sound a serious warning that literature could be lost because of the rapid changes in political loyalties. The sudden changes in internal enemis in the Soviet Union serves as a classic example. The heros of the Workers' Paradise were concentration camp victims the next day because they could not stay current with ruling party's changing enemy's list. The Non-Aggtression Pact mentioned above is another good example. Orwell reflected that in previous centuries, literary men (an women)had "a frame of reference." Their political and religious loyalties were stable from cradle to grave. However, given the rapidly changing of enemies, literary figures had no such stability and writing could be dangerous especially in the Soveit Union where writers were either sent to concentration camps or committed suicide. Had Orwell lived longer, he would have been pleased to see such Soviet writers as Boris Pasternak (DR. ZHIVAGO) and Alexander Solzhenitsyn who surived the Soviet purges and yet were awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature. In fact, Solzhenitsyn sent ten years in a Soviet concentration camp from which he emerged as a literary giant. Orwell did suggest that totalitarian thought control could not survive the spirit and soul of thoughtful men.
Among Orwell's many talents was his ability to expose political hypocrisy. Many of the British leaders were demanding that Mussolini be charged for "war crimes." Orwell scoffed at this nonsense. Orwell cearly indicated to his readers that those British leaders who demanded such "war crimes" trials against Mussolini were exactly the same British leaders who ten years previously praised Mussoini for the acts they now wanted to charge as war crimes. Orwell had a solid memory, and when Mussolini moved against the Communists and aided Franco in the Spanish Civil War, many of the same British leaders who wanted to try Mussolini for "war crimes," praised him for his actions which they awkardly tried to define as war crimes ten years later. Among those who praised Mussolini in the 1920s-1930s included Churchill.
In parts of the book Orwell showed himself as a military expert. When there were threats of a possible German invasion, Orwell had practical suggestions of arming the British citizen with the most practicle weapons. Orwell fought in the Spanish Civil War and volunteered for W.W. II, but illness kept out of that conflict. Orwell also took pride in his position in the Home Guard.
This reviewer has one criticism. Orwell's letters to the PARTISAN REVIEW, political essays, literary criticism, etc. should have been arranged by topic rather than by time sequence. This would enable readers to easily read the book. However, this reviewer could not have done nearly as good a job. Orwell simply enhanced his position as a great novelist, literary critic, political thinker, and excellent prose writer. Readers would to well to read this book to have a better understanding of the war years (W.W II) than is presented in badly written textbooks and popular accounts. This reviewer highly recommends this book.